TROY, Mich. — Just because there are going to be NHL games played again doesn’t mean the fans will come to see them.
The Detroit Red Wings, who have been skating at the Troy Sports Center during the long lockout, are aware of this but hope the fans eventually will forgive the sport and return.
“Everyone is allowed their opinion,” Todd Bertuzzi said after the conclusion of Monday’s informal skate in Troy. “I think at first there will be a few empty seats, but I think overall — let’s face it — hockey is a great sport. It’s great to watch; it’s great to watch on TV.”
Bertuzzi, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Cory Emmerton, Mikael Samuelsson, Ian White and Patrick Eaves joined other players on the ice Monday.
There was a little more intensity to the workout than there had been in recent weeks as negotiations dragged on.
“Oh yeah, a new freshness in the air, I guess. There’s something to skate for,” Eaves said. “December was dull, especially after talks broke off earlier in the month.”
White, who famously called commissioner Gary Bettman “an idiot” during the negotiations, said he didn’t really have hard feelings but thought the whole thing could have been handled better and more expeditiously.
“I didn’t really think too much of the job he’s been doing,” White said. “All along we thought there was a timeline on when they wanted to sweat us out until, and it looks like that’s what happened.
“It doesn’t seem like a good way to bargain, thinking we got to go to this date and seeing how much we can get from the players and, at the end, they’ll settle and give us a deal. It’s unfortunate because I think we could have had a deal in the summer.”
As angry as White was, he knows that even some of the most devoted fans are still upset with both the owners and the players.
“There’s been lots of damage for sure,” White said. “We’re only going to see once we get going here, but I think it’s a little different than the last lockout. I think fans are, from what I hear, there’s a lot of animosity this time, so it’s going to take a lot of work to get the people back and hopefully someday get back to where we left off.
“With L.A. winning last year, hockey was at the height it (had) never been at before, so it’s going to take a lot of work to get back to that.”
The league and its teams are going to have to get very creative to try to win some of those bitter fans back.
White said he’s heard a few interesting ideas that the league should consider.
“One would be giving away that NHL Center Ice (television) package,” White said. “I thought that was a great idea. Might even get some new fans if we’re giving that away free. It’s hard. Our job is just to play and do what we’re always doing. I’m sure the NHL is going to have some sort of plan to draw them back, but it’s going to be a battle.”
Although NHL players are known to be among the most approachable and easygoing professional athletes, Eaves believes they have their work cut out for them.
“I’m sure it will be difficult,” Eaves said. “I think it was hard on everybody, especially them. They want to see a game that’s fun and entertaining. They don’t want to see a lockout. We have to get the game going again.”
That’s the most important thing, getting the games going. That is expected to happen quickly, with most teams starting camp this weekend and games expected to start by Jan. 19.